Matt Ridley: This is what it would take to feed 9bn in 2050
Rosie Boycott at the APPG meeting said cities have never been designed to grow food, but to be supplied with it. I’m reminded, too, of Clare Devereux’s point at the same meeting that local produce provided a mere 0.14% of the food needs of Brighton & Hove. It was Mary Clear of Todmorden’s Incredible Edible who said “food is an agent of social change” . . .
Yet how will we solve the massive problem of ensuring a resilient food supply to a city? Indeed, how will we feed 9 billion on the planet in 2050?
Whether you agree or not with Matt Ridley’s views on a whole host of matters, this extract from The Rational Optimist is a thought-provoking take of what it would take:
At least a doubling of agricultural production driven by a huge increase in fertiliser use in Africa, the adoption of drip irrigation in Asia and America, the spread of double cropping to many tropical countries, the use of GM crops all across the world to improve yields and reduce pollution, a further shift from feeding cattle with grain to feeding them with soybeans, a continuing relative expansion of fish, chicken and pig farming at the expense of beef and sheep (chickens and fish convert grain into meat three times as efficiently as cattle; pigs are in between) — and a great deal of trade, not just because the mouths and the plants will not be in the same place, but also because trade encourages specialisation in the best-yielding crops for any particular district.
If price signals drive the world’s farmers to take these measures it is quite conceivable that in 2050 there will be nine billion people feeding more comfortably than today off a smaller acreage of cropland, releasing large tracts of land for nature reserves.
Imagine that: an immense expanse of wilderness throughout the world by 2050. It is a wonderful goal and one that can only be brought about by further intensification and change, not by retreat and organic subsistence. Indeed, come to think of it, let’s make farming a multi-storey business, with hydroponic drip-irrigation and electric lighting producing food year-round on derelict urban sites linked by conveyor belt directly to supermarkets. Let’s pay for the buildings and electricity by granting the developer tax breaks for retiring farmland elsewhere into forest, swamp or savannah. It’s an uplifting and thrilling ideal.